Cuba is a society in flux. The recent historical announcement of renewed diplomatic relations with the United States left most of us with our jaws on the floor, but rather than a game-changing shift, it is arguably just one more step in a much larger process of economic reinvention going on throughout the island. Over the last few years, the Cuban Communist Party’s political tendency seems to be toward more economic freedom and less top-down, centralization (with the occasional arbitrary arrest here and there). And in a country that has historically exalted film as both an art form and social tool, it seems only logical that the nation’s highly centralized, studio model of film production has found itself caught up in this process of transformation.
For years, Cuban independent cinema has been on the rise. While the official state film institute, known as the ICAIC, has fallen into thematic and stylistic stagnation, producers working outside of the system have brought the world films of international stature like Juan of the Dead by Alejandro Brugues, Melaza by Carlos Lechuga, and Venecia by Kiki Álvarez. For these independent production houses, the use of modern fundraising techniques involving private capital and international co-productions have been unofficially tolerated by the state government, but no legal status or protection has been given to independent creators. That’s why two years ago, a group of 20 filmmakers came together to draft a list of demands that sought to modernize Cuban film production and create a level playing field for independent producers.
The group, known as the G-20, features international luminaries such as director Fernando Pérez (Suite Habana), writer Senel Paz (Fresa y Chocolate) and producer Claudia Calviño (Juan of the Dead, Melaza), along with a handful of established and up-and-coming filmmakers. Over nearly two years, the group has met regularly to debate the contents of a proposed law to be presented to the ICAIC and the Communist Party’s Central Committee, all while enduring often vicious, slanderous attacks from more reactionary elements within Cuban society. Last week, that document was officially completed.
In broad terms, the G-20 has three primary goals: provide legal status to independent producers, codify a progressive Film Statute along the lines of other Latin American countries like Colombia, and reimagine the ICAIC as a modern film institute rather a top-down studio. In this last case, the ICAIC would distribute funding to independent projects, take ownership of the country’s cinematic patrimony and oversee diffusion projects like the Havana Film Festival and a number of national publications dedicated to cinema.
In addition, a few asterisks have been added to the group’s demands over the last few months. Just last December, the sudden, controversial censorship of Return to Ithaca — a French production about Cuba and an official selection at last year’s Havana Film Festival — inspired the G-20 to advocate for the film’s release and demand an end to censorship on the island. Another topic that has raised concern among G-20 filmmakers is piracy, which deeply affected the national release of Cuban feature Vestido de Novia late last year.
Undoubtedly, there is a long road ahead for the G-20 and Cuban independent film in general, but with the ICAIC showing itself more and more receptive to dialogue, we may very well be on the verge of a new Cuban cinematic wave. As a country with a rich cultural history that was once on the vanguard of Latin American cinema, suffice it to say that it’s about time.